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Axis Powers and Leaders

Much like in World War I, the Second World War involved different nations that were formed into groups, or alliances. But who were the Axis Powers and leaders? Which countries were part of the Axis?

The two main groups were called the Axis and the Allied Powers. Find out more about the Axis powers – Germany, Japan and Italy – in this article.

Allied Powers vs Axis Powers WW2

The Uniting of the Axis Powers

The Rome-German alliance between Italy and Germany was formed in 1936. It was the Italian leader, Benito Mussolini, who named it the ‘Axis’.

Following this, Japan and Germany signed a pact against communism. This was called the Anti-Comintern Pact.

Germany and Italy decided to make an even stronger alliance which they called the Pact of Steel on May 22nd, 1939.

When Japan joined this one too, it was then called the Tripartite Pace (‘tri’ means triple).

Mussolini Hitler Pact of Steel
Mussolini Hitler in Berlin, 1937


The leader of Germany was Adolf Hitler who had become Chancellor (like president or prime minister) of Germany in 1933. He was the leader of the Nazi Party.

He was an aggressive dictator who convinced the German people to vote for him.

Hitler Mussolini pact
Hitler and Mussolini in Munich

Fighting an evil dictator

Once he was in power, he took apart democracy bit by bit. He stopped people saying what they liked or speaking out against the party (this is called censorship). Hitler wanted to get rid of anyone that stood in the way.


He was very prejudiced against Jewish people and disabled people. This prejudice turned into hatred and he ordered the killing of lots of innocent people, including Jewish people.

Jewish people were sent to concentration camps where they suffered and died. He wanted to take control of all of Europe and the other countries (the Allies and the countries he invaded), wanted to stop him.

They also wanted to stop an evil tyrant and his harsh and unfair treatment of certain people.

World War 2 map of Europe 1941-1942

People in power

Hitler had some members of his party who were very high up and had lots of power. Some historians say that leaders like Himmler and Goering had more power than Hitler himself.

Heinrich Himmler was second in command to Hitler and was in charge of the brutal Gestapo police. Himmler and Hitler set up concentration camps, where they imprisoned people.

Hermann Goering
Hermann Goering

These were mostly Jewish people but communists, people who spoke out against the regime, and political prisoners were also sent there.

Goering was a war minister and led the air force (the Luftwaffe). Rommel was in charge of the army in Africa and the invasion of Normandy in France. Goebbels was also very important.


The Nazi party convinced everyone to go to war using the press. Convincing people by lying or exaggerating in the press is called propaganda. Lots of governments use it, even now.

Goebbels was clever in using propaganda to brainwash people in Germany towards hatred and convince young men to go to war and risk their lives for an evil dictator.



Mussolini was the dictator of Italy. He led a party called the Fascists. Like Hitler, they were extremely right wing and authoritarian.

This meant they crushed opposition and opposed anyone they didn’t like or agree with.

Mussolini founded the concept of a fascist government where there is one leader and one party that has total power. He was an inspiration to Adolf Hitler.

Victor Emmanuel III was the King of Italy and the head of the Italian Army. However, really he did whatever Mussolini told him to do until Mussolini was removed from power.

Victor Emmanuel III of Italy
Victor Emmanuel III of Italy

Like Hitler, Mussolini also persecuted people, including Jewish people.

Most historians agree that Mussolini did not have as strong a hold over the minds of Italian people and that his crimes against people were not as severe in Germany.

However, lots of regular Italian people lost their lives at war and people were treated unfairly just because of who they were.

Many Jewish people were forced out of Italy into brutal concentration camps. Many died in brutal conditions or somehow fought to survive until the end of the war.

military vehicle WW2

Mussolini did not have anywhere near as many famous generals and leaders under his command as Hitler.

A man called Cavallero was the commander of the Italian Royal Army.


Japan had an emperor called Hirohito. He ruled Japan from 1926 until 1989. He continued to be Emperor until after the war.

The people had never even heard his voice until he announced the war on the radio.

Hirohito during wartime
Emperor Hirohito during wartime

Hideki Tojo was the prime minister of Japan and supported the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy.

There were other important figures too. Yamamoto was the commander of the Japanese army.

He was said to be the best at war strategy and he was the commander of the Japanese armed forces.

Pearl Harbor USS Arizona

During Pearl Harbor, he also led the Japanese Navy. He died in 1943.

Osami Nagano was a leader of fleets during the Pearl Harbor attack.

Other countries in the Axis Alliance

Other countries also formed part of the Axis alliance.

Hungary became the fourth member of the Tripartite Pact. Hungary helped the Axis powers invade Russia.


Bulgaria actually switched sides during the war.

At first they were on the side of the Axis powers, but then Russia invaded them so they joined the Allies.

Romania also had to change sides by the end of the war and joined the Allies.


Finland did not sign the pact, but they fought with the Axis powers against Russia.

Quiz Time!


What was the pact between the three Axis powers called?
What was the name of Hitler’s second in command?
What is propaganda?

Who was Benito Mussolini?
What does authoritarian mean?
Who switched sides after Russia invaded them?

World War 2

Enabling Act

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